Maps provide a strong, almost incontestable record of the physical history of a place. They show us what came, what went, what was gained, and what was lost. Here in Britain, we have one of the best provisioners of cartography in the whole world – The Ordnance Survey. For centuries now, surveyors, geographers and draftsmen have prepared some of the most accurate, comprehensive and artistic mapping ever prepared.
My love of history goes hand in hand with my love of maps. Maps are not just the promise of where one plans to go – the echo of the small lad sprawled on the sitting room floor with maps scattered all around is still with me today – but they are snapshots of the past. The first map I had was a tattered 1:5000 1947 series map of Lichfield and Derby, in that classic style set by the 1925 new popular series. Effectively drafted by hand, the coloured roads, grey urban areas, elegant script and mystical symbols provided a window for me into a place that didn’t really exist anymore. I was hooked. Although the original has long since disintegrated, I still have a copy of that map.
Since the evolution of digital mapping and the internet, all this stuff has become loads more exciting. Google Earth provides a fantastic landscape one could never hope to explore previously. Programs like Memory Map and the like allow the browsing of all kinds of map – including OS maps – at the click of a mouse. Integration with GPS devices enable the recording of tracks, the locating of hidden features and real-time recording of landscape.
I regularly trawl auction sites and the like for interesting maps. Recently, I came upon a map I’d not previously suspected the existence of, a two and a half inch scale, 1947 map of Brownhills on eBay. Due to a bidding cockup, I lost it, but it gave me something new to search for. I then found David Archer, from whose site I found out how that particular series worked, so I emailed David to see what he’d got. To my delight, he had both the 1947 and 1951 editions of the map in question and the adjacent sheet to the east that covers most of Lichfied and Shenstone, and for a really good price, to boot.
The maps arrived very quickly, and I wasted no time in sharing a section with the readers, many of whom I know to be as map-obsessed as myself. The next step was to try making Google Earth overlays from them, but efforts with a home scanner were pathetic. A desperate, last-ditch enquiry on Twatter on Saturday pointed me to a local large-format scanning bureaux, who scanned the maps to enormous .PDF files for me. Thanks go to Stevieboy378 and The Edditer for their help. I’ve since postprocessed them and the results can be downloaded below. There are two options: JPG files, which stand alone, and Google Earth overlays, which can be loaded over each other and faded over satellite imagery to see how things compare. A guide to using them can be found in my previous post dealing with image overlays.
Comparing the two map series – which seem very close chronologically – is wonderfully illuminating. The dataset for the 1948 series was already years old when they were drafted, and the revisions in the 1951 series really show how the area was developing. Look for the coal mines, railways, and housing estates. Notice how road systems – particularly in South Lichfield and Wall – have changed. Look at Clayhanger between the two sheets.
Remember that these are scanned from used paper originals that are over 50 years old. There’s some distortion of the paper, and some positional inaccuracy I can’t pull out when overlaying them. Even still, they’re remarkably accurate.
(Edited 6th May 2010, 11:40pm – The above file didn’t work properly, and has now been fixed)